05/14/2009 11:29 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

AAPOR09: Lou Harris

The second interview in the series I am conducting at this week's AAPOR conference has a bit of a back story. I had the real honor of interviewing 88-year-old Lou Harris, the founder of Harris and Associates in the mid-1950s and creator of the Harris Poll. Harris was also one of the first pollsters to serve as a senior advisor to a presidential candidate -- John F. Kennedy and 1960.

The unfortunate back story is that about 30 minutes after we finished our interview and just before he was scheduled to speak at the AAPOR conference, Harris fell and hurt himself badly enough that he had to be taken to a nearby hospital. I am told, however, that the injury is not serious although he is spending the night for observation. We hope he is feeling better soon.

We talked for a little over twelve minutes. In this first segment, Harris recounts the work he did for the Kennedy campaign prior to the West Virginia Democratic primary in 1960:

In this second segment, I asked Harris about the apparently apocryphal story that had candidate Kennedy snapping, ""Just give me the numbers, Lou, I know what they mean." Apparently, that story is something of a myth, although he goes on to describe Kennedy as a perceptive but demanding client:


You can see all the videos, including those from last year's conference, here.

Update:  Twenty five years ago, the Washington Post's Louis Romano reported the following about the mythical "I know what they mean" story (via Nexis, 1/15/1984):

THE STORY IS SAID to be apocryphal, but political pollsters still love to tell it:

John F. Kennedy was soaking in a tub during the final days of the 1960 presidential campaign.

Harris, the first in a new breed of specialized presidential pollsters,
was on the edge of the tub discussing his latest survey results,
complete with a complicated package of political advice and in-depth
analysis for Kennedy.

"Just give me the numbers, Lou," Kennedy is said to have snapped. "I know what they mean."

we used to always meet in the bathroom," says Lou Harris today, one of
the deans of political polling. "But the story is part of the mythology
. . . I was certainly the first polltaker who . . . served on a
super-strategy committee."